Depression | Treatment

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How is depression treated?

Depression can be treated with medicines, with counseling, or with both. A nutritious diet, exercising on a regular basis, and avoiding alcohol, drugs, and too much caffeine can also help.

Will I need to go to the hospital?

Depression can usually be treated through visits to your doctor. Treatment in the hospital may be needed if you have other medical conditions that could affect your treatment or if you're at high risk of suicide.

How long will the depression last?

This depends on how soon you get help. Left untreated, depression can last for weeks, months, or even years. The main risk in not getting treatment is suicide. Treatment can help depression lift in 8 to 12 weeks or less.

What medicines are used to treat depression?

Medicines that treat depression are called antidepressants. They help increase the number of chemical messengers (serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine) in your brain.

Antidepressants work differently for different people. They also have different side effects. So, even if one medicine bothers you or doesn't work for you, another may help. You may notice improvement as soon as 1 week after you start taking the medicine. But you probably won't see the full effects for about 8 to 12 weeks. You may have side effects at first, but they tend to decrease after a couple of weeks. Don't stop taking the medicine without checking with your doctor first.

How does counseling help?

For mild to moderate depression, counseling may be a good treatment option. For major depression and for some people with minor depression, counseling may not be enough. A combination of medicine and talk therapy is usually the most effective way of treating more severe depression. If you continue the combination treatment for at least a year, you are less likely to have depression come back.

In psychotherapy, you talk with a trained therapist or counselor about things that are going on in your life. The focus may be on your thoughts and beliefs, on things that happened in your past, or on your relationships. Or the focus may be on your behavior, how it's affecting you, and what you can do differently. Psychotherapy usually lasts for a limited time, such as 8 to 20 visits.

What is electroconvulsive therapy?

Electroconvulsive therapy (also called ECT or electroshock therapy) is a procedure used to help treat certain mental illnesses. Electric currents are passed through the brain in order to trigger a seizure (a short period of irregular brain activity), lasting about 40 seconds. Medicine is given during ECT to help prevent damage to muscles and bones.

Electroconvulsive therapy may help people who have the following conditions:

  • Severe depression that does not respond to antidepressants (medicines used to treat depression) or counseling.
  • Severe depression in patients who can't take antidepressants.
  • Severe mania that does not respond to medication. Symptoms of severe mania may include agitation, confusion, hallucinations, or delusions.
  • Schizophrenia that does not respond to medication.

Tips on getting through depression

DO:

  • Pace yourself.
  • Get involved in activities that make you feel good or feel like you've achieved something.
  • Avoid drugs and alcohol. Both make depression worse. Both can cause dangerous side effects with antidepressant medicines.
  • Exercise often to make yourself feel better. Physical activity seems to cause a chemical reaction in the body that can improve your mood. Exercising 4 to 6 times a week for at least 30 minutes each time is a good goal. But even less activity can be helpful.
  • Eat balanced meals and healthful foods.
  • Get enough sleep.
  • Take your medicine and/or go to counseling as often as your doctor recommends. Your medicine won't work if you only take it once in a while.
  • Set small goals for yourself, because you may have less energy.
  • Encourage yourself.
  • Get as much information as you can about depression and how to treat it.
  • Call your doctor or the local suicide crisis center right away if you start thinking about suicide.

DON'T:

  • Don't isolate yourself. Stay in touch with your loved ones and friends, your religious advisor, and your family doctor.
  • Don't believe negative thoughts you may have, such as blaming yourself or expecting to fail. This thinking is part of depression. These thoughts will go away as your depression lifts.
  • Don't blame yourself for your depression. You didn't cause it.
  • Don't make major life decisions (for example, about separation or divorce). You may not be thinking clearly while you are depressed, so the decisions you make at this time may not be the best ones for you. If you must make a big decision, ask someone you trust to help you.
  • Don't expect to do everything you normally can. Set a realistic schedule.
  • Don’t get discouraged. It will take time for your depression to lift fully. Be patient with yourself.
  • Don't give up.

 

Bibliography

See a list of resources used in the development of this information.

Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff

Reviewed/Updated: 08/12
Created: 06/96

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